Swiss Back EU Rules Swiss voters vote Sunday on joining a European Union "passport-free" zone, sharing border security and police information with neighbor nations. The measure is expected to pass, though critics say it undermines centuries of Swiss neutrality. BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes and Liane Hansen discuss the referendum.
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Swiss Voters Back E.U. Passport Referendum

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Swiss Voters Back E.U. Passport Referendum

Swiss Voters Back E.U. Passport Referendum

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The setbacks this past week in France and the Netherlands for the European Union's proposed constitution sent shock waves through the capitals of Europe, but as the EU's political elite digest the resounding no votes, this weekend they received some more hopeful news from Switzerland. Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but in a referendum today, Swiss voters approved a measure to ease travel requirements between surrounding EU member states and their landlocked and traditionally neutral country. Joining us from Bern is BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes.

Good morning, Imogen.

Ms. IMOGEN FOULKES (BBC): Hello.

HANSEN: So explain the specific issues that were involved in today's referendum.

Ms. FOULKES: Well, what the Swiss were voting on today--the key one to do with the European Union--was approval of two EU agreements called Schengen and Dublin, after the towns where they were first drafted. What they mean for Switzerland is opening the Swiss borders so that you can travel across the EU and through Switzerland without showing your passport. In return, Swiss police would share information with their European Union colleagues about crime, money laundering, for example, or maybe suspected terrorist organizations.

The other agreement, Dublin, is about asylum, a very hot issue in Europe right now. The Dublin agreement says that no one should be able to apply for asylum in more than one European Union country. Now Switzerland will be included in that, too, and that is supposed to prevent abuse of the asylum system.

HANSEN: Switzerland has carefully guarded its neutrality through centuries of war and peace in Europe. Now that this referendum has passed, does that constitute a significant move away from the policy of neutrality?

Ms. FOULKES: I think for some traditionalist, conservative Swiss, perhaps, because they hold very strongly to the belief that Switzerland makes policy for Swiss and for their country and doesn't need to follow the policy of other countries, even neighboring ones. But among the political classes in Switzerland now, neutrality is thought of very much as a defense issue. Switzerland will not, for example, take a position on other countries' wars, you know, for or against. It won't get involved in other people's wars. It would never, for example, have joined the coalition against Saddam Hussein. That's out of the question for Switzerland, but when it comes to cooperating with its European neighbors on issues like asylum, like crime prevention, they are--many Swiss now think that's OK. It's not joining the European Union but closer cooperation they've approved.

HANSEN: But what about, you know, economic issues? Aren't the Swiss worried that the expanding European unification economically and this cooperation is going to isolate them and maybe hurt Switzerland's economy?

Ms.FOULKES: Well, this is also at the heart of the approval we've seen voters giving to these two agreements today, because Switzerland, since it said no more than 10 years ago to joining the European Union, has witnessed the growth of this huge internal European market. Now 60 percent of Switzerland's exports go to the EU. They need access to that market. The Swiss government has painstakingly negotiated bilateral agreements with Brussels to get access to that market. Those agreements would have been at risk if the Swiss had said no to these, 'cause Brussels has said, `You sign up to a number of things. You don't just cherry-pick the little ones you like. That's not what you're allowed to do.' So there are very strong economic reasons also at the bottom of the Swiss agreeing, particularly to open their borders, which was very sensitive to many voters.

HANSEN: BBC reporter Imogen Foulkes joined us from Bern, Switzerland.

Thank you.

Ms. FOULKES: You're welcome.

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